Audible Wallpaper Letters
Wallpaper & fidelity
Editor: About your editorial in the last issue, I've never before seen the particular phrase "audible wallpaper," which may well have been coined by Alistair Cooke, but when? I had thought that I was the first to think of, and use in print, the terms "musical" or "tonal wallpaper" and "wallpaper music," in my book Good Listening, published in 1953 and written 1951-1952. And I'm almost sure that I had used one form or another of the term earlier than that in some record review or article or, possibly, in one of my Saturday Review columns of around that period. When did Cooke begin his "Omnibus" TV program?
Of course, the term is such a natural that it may have been "invented" independently by a dozen different guys, and it's probably impossible to track down its first appearance (and certainly not important enough to be worth the trouble).
I got discouraged some years ago trying to track down the first appearance of "high fidelity"—I got as far back as 1931 or '32 or so, where it was "higher fidelity" in a couple of technical article titles in the RCA Review, but I'm sure the phrase was around some time before that (though in those days we "experts" tended to sneer at it). Some British speaker manufacturer—it may have been H. A. Hartley—claimed to have invented the term around 1927, but when I wrote him for some confirmation data, he never replied, and I searched the back issues of the appropriate English publications in vain. There was plenty of talk about "high quality" and about "fidelity" back in the late '20s, so "high fidelity" probably popped up all over the place at about the same time, by spontaneous combustion as it were....—R. D. Darrell, Stone Ridge, NY
Editor: Your complaints about "audible wallpaper" are very well taken. In my readings on noise and its effect on the human ear, I have come to the conclusion that noise is the primary cause of hearing loss in this country. I have read about tests in Africa of men in tribes where the background noise is one-tenth that of a refrigerator. A typical 70-year-old man could hear as well as a 20-year-old New Yorker. The physiological structures of our ears and theirs are not different; the only difference is the environmental noise level. In your equipment reports, you often refer to "row-H" listening. I do not know how loud this is, but if it is over 80dB in intensity it is potentially damaging to the hearing.—Gary Leavitt, Skokie, IL